You want to make your lawns and landscapes, the places where your children play and your vegetables grow, as safe as possible. We provide the information – and practical experience – to help you do it.
Lawns & Landscapes
Don’t get us wrong. We love mulches of all sorts. But one kind of mulch we’ve seen too much of is beauty bark. You know what we’re talking about. That chipped or shredded bark often bought in bags, sometimes sold in bulk, that’s used to cover bare ground around trees, in various landscape beds, and other open space. It’s become a suburban American cliche.
The stuff can often be attractive, sure; and give off a delicate scent, especially if it contains cedar. It does what mulch is supposed to do: keep down weeds, slow moisture evaporation, prevent run-off from heavy rain. And it does break down and add organic matter to your soil. But it doesn’t necessarily do these things as effectively as other mulches. Weeds can often find a way through chunks of bark and the acidic nature of most barks means you’ll have to monitor and adjust soil pH for the plants around it. And beauty bark is expensive, unless you live near a sawmill and can get it for free. And it needs replacing from time to time. The biggest argument we have against beauty bark? It doesn’t flower. (more…)
The onset of winter weather signals the beginning of one of gardening’s most enjoyable past times: dreaming! If you dream of providing your family with healthy, organic fruits as well as vegetables, if you’re craving to grow your own apples, pears, or peaches, if your desire for sustainability means buying less and less conventionally-grown produce from grocery stores, then now’s the time to start planning your own orchard.
Most fruit tree growers, especially in northern climes, prefer spring planting (though fall can be a possibility where conditions and the availability of nursery stock make it practical… some actually prefer it). Whenever you plan to plant your orchard, the time to start planning is today. (more…)
For a lot of us, November marks the end of our outdoor gardening season. There’s still puttering to do: cleaning and oiling tools to be put away for the winter, bringing indoors any potted plants we may still have outside, trimming back and protecting roses; that kind of thing. Often we’ll wait for a sunny (relatively) warm day to do these things. But as all of us have heard said — thank-you, Coach Kruger! — it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And in gardening, that means it ain’t over until the ground freezes, no matter what the calendar says.
How so? As long as you can get a spade in the ground, the ground can still be worked. That means you can still plant bulbs for spring blooming. Lots of experts will tell you that bulbs need to be planted around the time of the first frost and several weeks ahead of the ground freezing. We’ve found that this isn’t necessarily true. Bulbs planted well after the first frost will do quite well as long as the freeze is gradual and not the result of a sudden and prolonged cold snap. The main thing here is to avoid over watering. Everyone knows bulbs don’t like wet feet. When the solid freeze comes you don’t want your bulbs to be too damp which may cause them to be damaged. (more…)
Techniques to prevent plants in pots from cold and freezing weather.
Those of us who use potted plants in our gardens, on our patios, and around our landscapes face a problem each winter: how to protect them during the long cold winter. It’s hard enough in areas where extreme cold is frequent to keep perennials in the ground alive. It’s much harder overwintering potted plants. The bulk of soil that is in the ground tends to moderate the temperatures. The small amount in pots tend to give up heat more readily. What to do?
The general rule of keeping plants in pots two zones different than the zone you live in helps. In other words, if you live in zone 6, make sure the plants you have in containers are rated to zone 4. This of course makes it difficult if you live in zone 4. There are other things you can do to carry over plants in winter. Here are some suggestions. The basic rules are, of course, to keep the soil in the pots from freezing solid and becoming totally dry; not an easy proposition. (more…)
Xeric, natural, landscapes ask, “What is a garden for?”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That well-manicured lawn with its precisely-trimmed shrubs and hedges may look okay around an old-money McMansion, but is that what you want in your open space? With water-wise planting, conversion of labor-and-liquid-intensive lawns, and utilization of native plants, many of us are providing new answers to an old question: What is a garden for?
James Golden’s garden in a cleared patch of woods above the Delaware River in New Jersey is, as he says, good for nothing. But he doesn’t really mean it. His acreage is a jumble of native and exotic plannings, a sort of living collage constructed of many pieces, each having their own interest, but assembling into one attractive whole. When he says it’s good for nothing, he means that it has no utilitarian uses. But it is plenty useful in the larger sense. You can see a slide show of Mr. Golden’s garden, one that emphasizes its various parts, here. To get the full effect, visit his website”View From Federal Twist” here. (more…)
Leaves, turned into rich organic compost or protective mulch, are Autumn’s gift to composting.
We’ve often said that composting can save the world. Here’s one of the ways. During the fall, our yards and landscapes yield tons of refuse, much of it the form of leaves. Those leaves, bagged and placed on curb sides across the country, contribute significantly to the trash that goes into our landfills. In 2006, even after many local governments had instituted yard waste recycling programs, leaves, grass clippings and the like made up the largest component by weight of everything that went into our landfills. Grass clipping were the largest component by weight of yard waste but leaves were by far the largest component in volume. By 2013, yard waste had fallen to third, behind paper products and food waste. Progress!
The reason things have improved? More communities, and even some states, have rules on the books that prevent yard waste from going into public land fills. Waste 360 has the figures. 33.4 million tons of yard waste is generated in the U.S. every year. That’s over 200 lbs for every man woman and child. 19.2 million tons, over 57%, is composted. One sobering fact: the percentage amount of yard waste disposal has been flat the last several years after declining precipitously in the previous decades. And that situation might worsen. (more…)
Among spring’s greatest visual joys is a fat container sporting thick green spears of emerging tulips, daffodils, and other flowers. And when the flowers emerge tightly circled, like beautiful eyes following wherever you go, there’s little that can compare. The time to make sure your spring will be full of beautiful flowers from bulbs is now, in the fall, to give them a chance to establish roots and to chill-out over the winter, just like most gardeners do.
Don’t get us wrong. We love spring blossoms from bulbs as they poke out from the thawing ground, sometimes even through the snow, in our borders and gardens. And there’s little that’s as impressive as a huge plot of daffodils, their bright petals announcing sunny days, turning through the day as they follow the light. But growing bulbs in containers is a great way to add spot-specific color and interest. They’re especially useful to the small gardener, even apartment dwellers with verandas, in that they provide a space for growing color where none may have existed. Best of all? Growing them is easy.
Almost any spring-flowering bulb will do for container planting. And as you plan your bulb containers, consider planting major flowering bulbs like tulips, gladiola, and daffodils with smaller flowers like crocus, snowdrops, windflower, or grape hyacinth (though the latter tends to spread and take over pots). Combinations of bulbs will give you both staggered blooms and a layered, understory appearance. (more…)
September is here and many plants in the garden are going to seed. Some of those plant are weeds. Depending on how carefully you kept your plots and landscapes weeded this season, you may have lots or you may have few. However many weeds you have, now’s the last chance you have to get them before the cycle starts all over again next spring. Any work you do now will make your weeding easier next year.
I know, I know . . . the best and most effective weeding is done in early season when the ground is soft and the weeds are small, shallowly rooted, and vulnerable. But it’s too late for that. And next spring will be too late to stop weed seeds from spreading now. Weeding is a continuous activity in the organic garden and one’s attitude towards it has a lot to do with seeing it as a chore and impossible task or an ongoing activity that provides exercise, fresh air, and a chance to get close to one’s garden. Part of that attitude requires acceptance. You’ll never get all the weeds (or maybe you’re one of those people with small plots who will) and it’s better just to accept some. Even those herbicides we see advertised on television as giving complete control don’t get all the weeds. Just make sure the weeds you miss aren’t the most noxious or persistent. Those are the ones to concentrate on.
One other thing regarding attitude. It’s said that weeds are plants for which a use has yet to be found. They’re often the same local wildflowers we admire when they’re not in our garden. This may all be true, but we don’t want anything to limit or compete with our flowers and vegetables, let alone add their own improvisational touches to our landscape plans. (more…)
Graham Rice has given us a new way to look at landscapes. His book, Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers For Multi-Season Beauty poses an interesting question or two. Why, when designing our border gardens and landscape plantings, do we focus on short-lived flowers? Sure those flowering plants give us beautiful blossoms for a few weeks each year, but what about the rest of the time? Rice urges us to think long term. He wants us to consider plants that have something to offer year ’round. He asks us to consider all of a plant’s various attractions when we plan our gardens.
Consider the deciduous honeysuckle vine. In the spring, it’s loaded with flaring, fragrant flowers. These flowers aren’t only a source of scent and beauty, they attract hummingbirds and insects, mostly moths, which then attract other birds. In that sense, those soothing songs you hear in the evening, as well as those alarm clock calls in the morning, are owed to the honeysuckle. Once the flowers are gone, and they can last a long time,the honeysuckle’s lush foliage cascading over tall fences and arbors is a source of soothing green color and shade. Come fall, some honeysuckle varieties — Grahamn Thomas, Scentsation — produce clusters of beautiful scarlet berries (some varieties sport blue berries) that are a joy to behold and another source of food for birds. (more…)
One of our favorite places in this beautiful country is Florida’s Indian River. The Indian is not really the kind of river we usually think of. It’s a long, narrow estuary on the east coast of Florida running from Merritt Island (which holds Cape Canaveral) all the way down to Vero Beach.
Protected from the open sea by a long string of islands (which also protects the mainland from hurricane waves), the River was once an ecological wonderland. Your once foot-loose Planet Natural Blogger spent a month working at a Marina near Neptune, Florida near where the Sebastian Inlet provides access from the River into the sea. We enjoyed rowing through the quiet waters, fishing off the nearby islands, and watching dolphins cavort just off the dock where we often spent the end of the day. A nearby wildlife refuge, one of the country’s first, had been designated in an attempt to save the then-endangered brown pelican. That attempt was wildly successful.
But ecological victories in this day and age are often short-lived and now, the Indian River is in big trouble. Hundreds if not thousands of pelicans have perished along the Indian River and its system of estuaries already this year. And that’s not all. Some 300 sea manatees, those big gentle creatures of Florida, have also died there, as well as “scores” of bottle-nosed dolphins. What’s going on? (more…)